It wasn’t the position that Uche Ilobi ’05 had in mind, but she went to the interview anyway. She not only came away with the job, but soon understood God’s call, her talent for the work and the difference she could make in the lives of children in the city of Houston.
Ilobi is the education outreach coordinator for the Society for the Performing Arts (SPA). The goal of the organization is to bring the world’s finest artists to Houston, to enrich community life and to inspire the young people of Houston to find the creativity inside of them.
In her role, Ilobi develops connections between the guest artists and the various schools, organizations and neighborhoods of Houston, so that the engagement between guest and city is the fullest possible, crossing many economic and ethnic lines.
SPA’s current season of artists include Yo Yo Ma, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Doc Severinsen, the Blue Man Group, the Peking Acrobats and ScrapArtsMusic (the creative group involved in the opening and closing ceremonies at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver).
“I try to bring the arts to Houston’s youth,” she said. “It is my aim for the artists to influence the kids, and it is amazing to see how art can transform. As the proverb says, ‘For the lack of vision, the people perish,’ and if our youth do not see what’s possible in them and in life, we all lose as a community.”
Ilobi was interested in corporate communications after her Calvin education and a master’s degree from Syracuse University. Settling in Houston and job hunting, the SPA job came on to her radar screen quickly; although not what she was initially looking for, “somewhere along the line, the passion for the work filled my heart,” she said.
Her journey to Calvin started in Nigeria, where she grew up, and then she moved with her parents to the Netherlands where her father worked for Shell Oil. Ilobi attended a British school in The Hague, primarily with diplomatic families, and then on to university.
She wasn’t happy in what or where she was studying, so she decided it would be beneficial to finish her education in the United States. Using the internet as her American collegiate shopping guide, Ilobi had finished applying to her list of five institutions when she felt troubled overnight.
“I didn’t understand why at the time, but God seemed to be nudging me to apply to one more school. So I did that the next day. That college was Calvin,” Ilobi said.
When this young woman, fluent in Dutch, stepped on the Calvin campus for the first time, she received what she called “the shock of the century.” She had no idea about the depth of the college’s Dutch roots and said she soon was correcting classmates for mispronouncing the names on the residence halls—virtually all of them Dutch.
She credits the college with getting her focused on communications and has fond memories of Professors Bytwerk and Schultze—persons who impressed upon her that “everyone is called to be an agent in God’s world.”
“I’m still identifying my strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “God wants me to be an influence. Maybe it will remain in the arts, perhaps move to business or even diplomacy. But whatever it is, I’ll give it all my heart.”